In cases of alleged misconduct by one of your employees, in order to ensure that any dismissal is fair, you should investigate the matter to determine whether or not disciplinary action is necessary. The fairness of the dismissal depends on whether or not there is a fair reason for dismissal and, in the circumstances, whether or not you, as the employer, acted reasonably in treating it as a sufficient reason for dismissal. How you investigate the matter will be relevant to whether or not you acted reasonably.
In some cases, it may be appropriate for you to suspend an employee from work pending the completion of the investigation. However, given the serious implications of suspension for an employee, including for his or her morale and professional reputation, you must ensure that the circumstances of the case justify it, and that it is necessary to ensure a fair investigation. Suspension will not be necessary in every case.
The Acas code of Practice
The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures provides practical guidance on dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. The code states that employers should pay a suspended employee during the period of suspension, keep the suspension as brief as possible and keep the suspension under review. You should make clear that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself.
The non-statutory guidance that accompanies the code says that suspension may be necessary, for example:
- where relationships have broken down
- in cases of gross misconduct
- where there is a risk to an employee or company property, or responsibilities to other parties, or
- in exceptional cases, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that evidence has been tampered with or destroyed, or witnesses pressurised.
While it is preferable for you to have a contractual right to suspend an employee, where the circumstances justify it, you can still suspend without one. You should ensure that the employee suffers no detriment as a result of its decision to suspend, and as such, the employee should be fully paid and benefit from the same terms and conditions of employment throughout the suspension.
If the contract of employment contains a procedure that applies to the suspension of an employee, you should ensure that you comply with it, as a failure to do so may enable the employee to claim breach of contract, and/or to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
As an employer, you should not suspend an employee without just cause. It is not appropriate to suspend simply because investigative enquiries are being made, where the particular circumstances don’t require it. If it is necessary to remove the employee from, for example, contact with particular colleagues or clients, you should consider if suspension can be avoided by using a less drastic measure, for example a temporary change to the employee’s duties or department.
Where the circumstances of a case justify suspension, you should advise the employee of the reason for the suspension, how long it is likely to last, and that it is a neutral act that does not indicate guilt. You should make clear to the employee that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself, and that disciplinary action will not necessarily follow.
You should also aim to keep the suspension and the reason for it confidential, so as not to cause damage to the employee’s reputation, particularly as the investigation will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Where it is necessary to explain the employee’s absence, you may consider discussing with the employee how he or she would like this to be communicated to clients and colleagues; this may be appropriate particularly if the employee holds a senior position. Where the employee’s colleagues are aware of the suspension and/or the disciplinary issue, for example if they are witnesses or involved in the investigatory process, you should explain that the suspension is a precautionary measure while the matter is being investigated, and that it will not necessarily result in disciplinary action. Employees should be encouraged to treat the matter as confidential. You may wish to provide managers with a statement confirming how to respond to queries relating to the suspended employee’s absence, to ensure that a consistent message is communicated.
Think that you might need to suspend one of your employees? Call me first, before you do anything! We can discuss the situation in complete confidence, to help you make the best decision. Call me now on 0118 940 3032.